9 May 2018

'Blurring' of Australian aid to Pacific raises concern

5:07 pm on 9 May 2018

The securitisation and "blurring" of Australia's aid to the Pacific is concerning, a Pacific defence and security scholar says.

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Photo: Massey University

The Australian government unveiled a boost in aid to the region on Tuesday, allocating money for a regional security college and funds for a highspeed internet cable to Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands.

The $US970 million Pacific contribution now represents 30 percent of Australia's total aid budget which remains frozen at $US3.1 billion dollars after deep cuts in recent years.

Anna Powles of Massey University's Centre for Defence and Security Studies, said the sub-text for the increase was China and concern over an "increasingly contested regional order."

She said this concern was also the backdrop for the increase in aid to the region which New Zealand also announced on Tuesday.

"It's very clear from the Australian budget, particularly, that we see this very strong securitisation of aid," Dr Powles said.

The allocation of aid funds to a new high-speed undersea telecommunications cable for Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands was the prime example of this, she said.

The cable deal killed off an earlier plan for the Chinese firm Huawei to build a submarine link between Solomon Islands and Australia which had raised jitters for Canberra about national security.

Tui Samoa cable brought ashore

Tui Samoa cable brought ashore Photo: RNZI Autagavaia Tipi Autagavaia

"If development assistance is increasingly framed in terms of the geopolitical contest then we may not be making the right decisions in terms of the kinds of development programme rolled out," Dr Powles said.

"High speed internet is a positive for PNG and the Solomon Islands but let's be cautious about ensuring that development assistance is not increasingly focused on achieving security objectives as opposed to development objectives."

Funding was also allocated for a new Australia Pacific Security College, targeting Pacific islanders at leadership level.

Dr Powles said she understood the college would be concerned with issues like law enforcement, security issues and intelligence.

"Again it reflects those concerns that Australia has about a loss of influence in the region and the need to really spearhead and be the Pacific primary security partner."

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